A Night at the Opera

Next on tour of French Patisserie is a classic combination of coffee, chocolate and cream (the French Tiramisu) and a homage to my other passion, the Opera cake. This cake is technically difficult but melts in the mouth, when made correctly, and is almost as tasty as Tenor Jonas Kauffmann (Exhibit A https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RzLR1OuDaKY&list=PL4_Y5duTlUpkLbLPRZ16uNo1Xxo_Fcr8Z). It was made famous in the 19th century by French Patissierie Dalloyau, which just so happens to be in the shadow of the Opera Garnier the building on which the pastry is based on. I assume that the many decadent layers of the cake are meant to mirror the decadent layers of the Opera Garnier. I should hopefully end up with perfect contrasting cream and brown layers with a smooth, shiny chocolate ganache on top.

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The First Challenge is the Almond sponge, I found the key here was to be very gentle with the mix, especially folding the egg whites, be very accurate with the measurements and trust your oven (i.e don’t open the door too early during cooking or the cake will sink). I also made this sponge mix in two batches (I only had one tin and didn’t want the mixture to deflate too much between cooking, of course if you happen to have 4 swiss roll tins lying around handy, you’re fine.)

Almond Sponge (serves 10)

150g icing sugar

5 tbsp flour

pinch of salt

140g ground almonds

1tsp vanilla extract

6 eggs

30g butter, melted and cooled

6 egg whites

2tbsp caster sugar

1. Mix the icing sugar, flour, salt and almonds together. Whisk in the eggs one at a time slowly before adding the vanilla. Then add the butter.

2. Whisk the egg whites to soft peaks, (you should be able to turn the bowl upside down on your head without the eggs falling out – I greatly enjoy doing this to other people). Add the sugar carefully and whisk to shiny peaks. Mix 1/3 into the almond mix, whisking together. Fold (using a metal spoon in a folding action) the remainder of the egg whites into the mix.

3. Spread a thin layer onto a lined swiss roll tin (34.5x 24.4cm). Make sure to use a palate knife to spread the mix to the ages, but try not to overwork it or it will lose the rise. Bake at 220oC for 6-8mins, until golden brown. Turn out onto a wire rack to cool. Repeat 4 times.

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For the Coffee Syrup

300ml water

150g sugar

3tsp expresso powder (I also like to add a drop of vanilla extract)

1. Stir the ingredients together until dissolved over a low heat, bring to the boil, boil for 1-2mins, remove from the heat.

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For the Coffee Buttercream

4 egg yolks

150g sugar

40ml water

pinch of salt

300g butter

2tsp expresso powder dissolved into 2 tsp boiling water

1. For this recipe you really need a kitchen aid (no-hand mixer) or a hand held electric whisk (but you may need help). It’s quite hard to do it without… Whisk the 4 egg yolks on high for 5mins until light and creamy.

IMG_20692. Meanwhile heat the sugar, water and salt in a pan until boiling. Boil until you get a clear syrupy consistency (roughly 115oC).

3. Immediately pour into the egg yolks little by little, like making mayonnaise, while the mix is still mixing. Add a bit then whisk some more and repeat. You should end up with a lighter pale mousse consistency. Keep whisking until cooled to room temperature (feel the sides of the bowl, if it is too warm the butter will melt into the mix and you won’t get the desired consistency.)

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4. Add the butter bit by bit and whisk until you get a white creamy mix. Add the expresso, cooled.

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For the Ganache

100g dark chocolate 

15ml cream

60ml whole milk

(optional: 20ml white rum)

50g butter

1. Chop the dark chocolate finely and pour into a bowl. Heat the cream, (rum) and milk together and bring to the boil. Immediately pour over the chocolate and leave for 2-3mins. The chocolate should have melted. Mix to a smooth melted chocolate consistency if need be add more dark chocolate to achieve desired consistency and blast for 5-10secs in the microwave at a time to heat a little, before beating to melt. When chocolate is melted add the butter and mix till melted. Leave to cool to a spreadable consistency.

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For the Chocolate Glaze

200g dark chocolate

60g butter

1. Melt chocolate and butter together. Reserve some in a piping bag to pipe.

To Construct

1. Take 1 of the sponges. Lay down with the non-parchment side facing up. Temper 150g chocolate. (Melt at 20 sec intervals until almost all is melted – there should be a few lumps, take out and stir till all the lumps have melted = easy tempered chocolate). Spread this over the sponge in a thin layer, then leave to set in the fridge for 5mins (you don’t want it completely hard). Flip onto a cake board/whatever you want to serve the cake off. The chocolate bottom will make it easier to take the slices off the board later.

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2. Soak the first sponge with coffee syrup, the more the better, but make sure to dab not pour the syrup over or you will just end up with a disintegrated sponge. Apply your first layer of buttercream, using a palate knife to smooth it down to about 1/2 cm thick.

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3. Top with the next sponge, parchment paper up. Remove the parchment paper and soak with coffee syrup. (NB you may want to refrigerate the cake between layers if your kitchen is very hot. But the buttercream will have to sit out a little so it can be spread.

4. Spread with chocolate ganache, then top with the next sponge and soak with syrup. Spread with more buttercream, top with the final sponge and soak with syrup.

5. Finally spread one more layer of buttercream, thinner than the others. This is mostly just to make the top smooth and fill in the cracks.

6. Finally pour over the glaze, spread evenly and quickly (mine wasn’t as even as I would’ve liked and the key is speed.)

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7. Let set for a little, then take a serrated knife and cut down each side to trim the edges. Keep refrigerated till served.

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London Calling

It was long ago decided my sister was going to be the rich sister, along the same time as she decided to go into Property and about the time I decided to go into food…. Unfortunately I can’t even claim to be the creative one in the family as she is both musical as well and way more fashionable than I am. What I can do however is cook for her friends when I am up. While my sister is not actually a bad cook, the fact that she was surprised that the list of ingredients included olive oil (which she didn’t have in the house) was possibly a good reason for me to intervene when cooking 3 courses for 8… London is still a little bit of a novelty for me. Having grown up in Oxford and barely ever leaving University in Cambridge during term time it’s still slightly exciting to use the tube, shop in Oxford street and go out in London (although the prices soon wear the novelty down). I was down in London to do a course in Wine course, 48 wines in 3 days (although of course you spit most of them away as you have to be pretty on it for the exam at the end of the 3 days). So now I should be able to tell you quite a lot about all the different grapes, where they come from, what they taste like and matching wines to food. (More on that later)

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So for the menu I cooked for my sister (aided I might add at this point by my sister’s lovely friend the business whizz, who came early to help. About 2 mins after I first met her she was chopping onions, absolutely brilliant) I made:

 

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Crunchy Butterbeans

1. Spread out 800g tinned Butterbeans or Garbanzo beans in an ovenproof dish. Sprinkle over sea salt, pepper, lime juice, paprika, pinch of cinnamon, pinch of cayenne pepper and a drizzle of oil.

2. Roast in the oven 190oC for 30mins, then turn down to 160oC and roast until crunchy, checking every 10mins to stir.

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White Gazpacho

1. Lay out 100g flaked almonds on a baking tray lined with foil. Toast at 200oC for 8-10mins until browned. Roast 2 heads of garlic at 200oC for30-40mins and then set aside to cool. Slice 100g white grapes in half and freeze with 100g quartered slices of cucumber.

2. Cut 375g white grapes in half and place in a bowl with 375g of chopped, skinless and seedless cucumber. Pour over 360ml natural yoghurt, a pinch of salt and pepper, 360ml water, 300g ground almonds, 360g sourdough bread, crust removed and torn into pieces and the roasted garlic cloves. (The best way to do this is using a serrated knife and slice of the bottom of the head of garlic and squeeze out the insides) Mix and leave overnight to marinade.

3. Blend the fridge mix together and season with salt, pepper and sherry vinegar to taste. Serve garnished with frozen grapes, frozen cucumber slices, flaked almonds and drizzle of oil.

Giant Couscous Paella, Roasted Cod, Crispy Ham, Pea Puree

1. Lay 140g Serrano ham (or Proscuitto) on a single layer on a lined baking tray nd roast for 6-8 mins at 200oC,, separate, cut into strips and leave to cool.

2. For the pea puree take 400g frozen peas, add 125ml vegetable stock, 3-4 garlic cloves, a bunch of mint, bunch of parsley and 2 tbsp Greek yoghurt. Blend together till smooth, season to taste. Refrigerate till ready to use.

3. For the Paella, soften 2-3 onions with 4-5 finely chopped garlic cloves and a pinch of salt in 2tsp olive oil. Add a splash of white wine, 4-5 strands of saffron, 1-2tsp paprika, 1-2tsp cayenne pepper and 2-3 red peppers cut into strips. Add 300g giant couscous and stir to coat for 2-3mins. Add 400ml stock and cook 8-10mins until the couscous is cooked.

4. For the cod, put 8 cod fillets skin up in a roasting tin, season and drizzle with olive oil. Roast in the oven at 200oC for 8mins until just translucent and the skin is beginning to crisp.

5. Place pea puree on the plate, put a circle of paella in the centre and top with the fish and crispy ham.

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Lime Sponge, Lime, Tequila and Salted Caramel Syrup, Avocado mousse and White Chocolate Mint leaves

1. For the Syrup (1). Place 150g sugar in a pan. Add 50ml water, a large pinch of salt, 1 lime juice and zest. Bring to the boil and DO NOT STIR. Let bubble till it begins to turn very light orange, remove from the heat. Pour a little syrup into 8 greased, foil mini pudding basins. Leave to cool.

2. For the Sponge. Beat 170g sugar and 170g butter together until light and fluffy. Beat in 2 eggs, vanilla essence, zest of 1 lime and 1tsp cinnamon for 2-3 mins. Fold in 170g self raising flour. The mix should be pale yellow and not too thick, if it is too thick add a little milk. Spoon batter into the 8 pudding basins, filling up to halfway. Bake in the oven for 12-15mins at 140oC or until golden brown and cooked in the middle (check using a metal skewer, if it comes out clean the cakes are done. Set aside till ready to use.

3. For the Mint Leaves, Melt 100g white chocolate in a microwave in 20sec bursts. Pick individual mint leaves and pat completely dry. Dip the leaves in the mint and place on a greased, foil lined tray, place in the fridge to set.

4. For the mousse, mash 2 avocados and blend with 300g Greek Yoghurt (blending creates a lighter texture than just mixing). Add a small bunch of mint, a pinch of salt, 2-3tbsp of icing sugar and lime juice (to taste).

5. For the syrup (2). This syrup needs to be clear so make the syrup as step 1 but take it off the heat before it gets any colour and it should be thinner. Add 50ml white tequila. (This should be used warm)

6. To serve, turn out the sponges and drizzle with the warm syrup. Serve with the Avocado mousse and white chocolate mint leaf.